Hacienda Bambusa's Olivier Dufeu & Diego Ruiz - The People Behind the Experience
Hacienda Bambusa is a hidden gem in Colombia. It's remote, tucked away at the foothills of the Andes in the lush central coffee region, a position that is equal parts magically charming and logistically challenging. Colombian Contemporary artist Santiago Montoya owns the property; he and his family still keep a house nearby and used to oversee the management of the Hacienda personally. But balancing a hospitality role with the demands of an escalating international art career proved impossible and four years ago, the Montoya family decided to suspend operations at Hacienda Bambusa, closing it to the public.
Enter Olivier Dufeu, a Frenchman who worked in Chile & Argentina and Diego Ruiz, a Cali native who became a Buenos Aires restauranteur. Partners in business and in life, they were traveling through Colombia three years ago while in search of potential business opportunities and fell in love with the Coffee Triangle Region. With backgrounds in hospitality, tourism and restaurant management, their skill set and passion were exactly the magic that Hacienda Bambusa needed to reopen her doors. Through Clark Kotula, Olivier & Diego connected with the Montoya Family and Hacienda Bambusa reopened under their creative vision and detailed management.
Olivier and Diego have a compelling story and were kind enough to answer a few questions for us. We hope you enjoy this interview with the People Behind the Experience at Hacienda Bambusa!
First, the most important question. How did you two meet each other?
We met five years ago in Buenos Aires and while we tell people that we had an initial great connection, in truth is was love at first sight! I (Olivier) was working for a travel agency & tour operator in Buenos Aires after traveling around South America for several years and Diego owned a restaurant. We met at a bar in BA and bonded over our love of travel, music, excellent food and South America as a whole.
Why did you make the leap from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Armenia, Colombia?
Diego is from Cali, Colombia, and I was always interested in exploring more of that particular country beyond what I had already experienced during my backpacking days. We took a trip together three years ago and just really fell for the friendliness of the Colombia people and the beauty of the country, especially the mountains surrounding the Coffee Triangle. That's when the idea of relocating to Colombia and taking on a project in the destination really started to form. Colombia also had and has a really positive energy; tourism is increasing and with the opportunity to work together to reopen Hacienda Bambusa, all of the stars seemed to align. It was just the right time to make the move.
Today, we spend most of the year at Bambusa and live just ten minutes away from the property. We have full autonomy to manage the hotel but the Montoya Family still owns and cultivates the 500 acres surrounding the house.
What are the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of operating a high-end boutique property in a fairly remote and somewhat obscure location?
First, its the limitations of the location itself as well as clearly setting expectations for what the Hacienda Bambusa experience is. It is sometimes a struggle to convince travelers that they should stay at a property that is somewhat remote, in the middle of a farm and surrounded only by nature, though fortunately Avianca offers good flight schedules so we aren't too far out of the way. Also, Bambusa is a rustic countryside house made out of Bamboo (Bambusa actually refers to a type of clumping bamboo.) We simply don't have all of the comforts and luxuries that a 5* city hotel offers. Weather can affect the wifi, our verandas aren't screened and bugs are a fact of life when surrounded by flowering plants, and we don't have an elevator so all eight of our Jr. Suites must be accessed by stairs.
The greatest reward is when our guests leave with a huge smile in their faces, sad to leave but assuring they will not forget the days they spent staying with us. We recently hosted a lovely newlywed couple from the UK and arranged a surprised private dinner for them in the middle of the garden, surrounded by candles and flowers. They loved it!
Or, last year, we hosted a French family who adopted twin girls from Colombia thirteen years ago. This was their first trip back in Colombia since the adoption. The parents wanted to show the girls what a beautiful country Colombia is and the trip was very emotional for everybody.
What do you feel is often a surprising and unanticipated highlight of guests staying at Hacienda Bambusa?
I think our customers are surprised with our attention to detail and the balance between the relaxing countryside atmosphere and world class service. We try to get to know our clients in advance so we can surprise them with attention to personal details during their stay.
A highlight for guests is undoubtedly to walk around the property with Camilo, our naturalist guide, through the cocoa plantation and the bamboo forest. And many guests are surprised that much more than just coffee is grown here!
What are you most proud of since reopening Hacienda Bambusa?
Bambusa was already known when we arrived; the hotel had developed a niche following among guests with fond memories of their time there. We started with the goal of reconnecting with those guests, recreating those memories and going beyond that. And we've added lots of details to improve the stay of our guests, from AC and WiFi in each room to expanding the types of activities and experiences that guests can have on the property. We've also managed to attract more media and industry attention so Hacienda Bambusa is more recognized than before.
We are always thinking of ways to improve our experience and stay fresh. This exercise of constant renewal goes from the smallest detail in the garden to making adjustments to our menu or training our staff.
Tell me why someone should experience the Coffee Triangle without using the word “coffee.”
As our guests discover, the region produces way more than its namesake! It actually also produces also cocoa, plantains, pineapple, avocados, etc! The area is very lush and ideal for growing a variety of fruits and vegetables.
As we are at the very foot of the Andes, the green mountains surrounding us offer amazing views and many options for activities. There is excellent hiking, birdwatching and horseback riding right beyond our doorstep.
And last but not least, the culture of the region is phenomenal. People in this part of Colombia are especially friendly and welcoming and are very candid about sharing their history. They have their own culture, food and identity which sets this area apart for the rest of Colombia, much in the same way that Salta feels very different from the rest of Argentina. When people think of Colombia, they tend to focus on the cities like Cartagena, Bogota, Medellin and Cali. These are great and should not be missed, the the countryside surrounding us offers a more complete and complementary picture of Colombia as a whole.
Lastly, please share some of your Insider's Tips on Colombia! What are your favorite places to eat, hike, stay and experience Colombian culture (aside from Bambusa of course!)
Aside from Bambusa? This is a hard question...
When we want culture and great food we go to Bogota. The city is not one of those cities that strikes you at first glance, but as you grow to know it you appreciate it more and more. Bogota has a very vibrant and up and coming food and art scene.
I also love the region of Santander to the north of Bogota, especially Barichara village. The whole region is perfect for active adventures and we've done some amazing hikes and white water rafting there.
Olivier and Diego look forward to welcoming your guests at Hacienda Bambusa. Make sure to get in touch with personalized traveler details so that they can prepare special touches in advance!